For most, the dentist is a clinical place—a source of pain and discomfort. But similar to fashion, the form of healthcare has always emphasized aesthetics. The advent of social media, too, has undoubtedly made the smile an indispensable asset. It comes as no surprise that the young and tech-savvy have sought out not only to perfect their pearly white grins, but to embellish them with attention-drawing accessories.
Tooth gems, gold caps, grills, and even tooth polish are among the many forms of mouth adornment. If encasing your canines in a precious metal or shelling out a few thousand dollars for a diamond-encrusted grill seems too absurd, the addition of a colorful Swarovski crystal or a 14k gold charm is a more dainty way to make a fashion statement.
While the youngsters reviving the recurring trend associate the bazoo bling with the ‘90s, the decorative practice actually extends as far as ancient civilization. Affluent Etruscan women, who lived in Italy from 800 to 200 BC, are credited as the first people to adopt what we call grills today. Gold bonding was placed on intentionally removed front teeth as a form of ornamentation. Mayans also embraced their own form of cosmetic dentistry. From 300 to 900 AD, Mayan royalty drilled holes in their teeth and filled them with jade, a precious stone, to enhance their appearance and assert social status. Other societies too, from Sweden to the Philippines, turned to the form of beautification to connect with each other and divine authority. Separated by time and space, the similar integration of body modification proves the human desire to augment the appearance.
Throughout history, groups have shunned what they believed to be an archaic accessory while others grew more fond of it. West Indian immigrants, many of them gold teeth-wielding, sparked the practice’s popularity in the United States. It wasn’t until the 1980’s though, that the smile-enhancing accessory made its way into American popular culture.
Gold teeth eventually gave way to the grill as people no longer adopted tooth coverings out of necessity, but for their flashy and wealth-flaunting disposition. Flava Flav and Big Daddy Kane are two notable rap figures who gave rise to the grill in the ‘80s. New York City jeweler Eddie Plein is often credited with introducing the trend to the big apple, feeding the fire of the emerging trend.
In 2005, the popularity of the mouth decor soared when Nelly released “Grillz,” and an accompanying music video which featured a myriad of grill-boasting close ups. Since, the form of adornment has graced the mouths of a host of musical artists of various genres, from Kanye West to Miley Cyrus. A teeth atelier to the stars, Paris-based jewelry designer Dolly Cohen is particularly popular among celebs, creating grills for Rihanna, Drake, Madonna, Beyoncé, and others.
Mouth embellishment remains a staple in the music scene, in rap and hip hop most prominently, but it has also expanded to mainstream celebrity culture. Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner, and Adwoa Aboah have been spotted sporting tooth gems in recent years. The toned-down, but still opulent mouth jewelry serves celebs well as both an everyday accessory and an element of surprise on the red carpet.
And now trickling down to the masses, the art of mouth adornment has been harnessed once again. This time, it’s in the hands of Gen Z. The seemingly Tik Tok-approved trend has been flaunted by some of the platform’s most recognized contributors, from Charli and Dixie D’Amelio to Addison Rae. Although not advised, a number of DIY tooth gem videos are also circulating on social media.
Yet another form of showcasing one’s style, teens have taken a liking to teeth accessories. Contrary to generations before, who had the pleasure of parading around in unsightly retainers, colorful elastics, and full-on braces, for Gen Z, even the adolescent activity of visiting the orthodontist has become a form of self-expression. Aesthetically pleasing alternatives have replaced the traditional dental experience—Invisalign even sells stickers so wearer’s can prettify their medical apparatuses.
Whether one is looking for temporary teeth accessories or a more permanent style solution, a swift visit to Charmed by Ro in NYC, GBY in Los Angeles, or an online consultation with one of the iconic Johnny Dang’s jewelry design specialists will leave your smirk shining like never before. As the unlikely form of embellishment regains its rank in popular culture, Gen Z is leading its modern revival.END
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